A Detroit-area musician played over the bishop’s homily at the Confirmation liturgy Tuesday, May 17, with support from many of the parishioners.

Bishop Donald Hanchon (Photo: Archdiocese of Detroit)

Bishop Donald Hanchon (Photo: Archdiocese of Detroit)

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon had come to Assumption Grotto, a conservative parish on Detroit’s east side, to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation upon the parish’s young people. Bishop Hanchon is an affable and able spiritual leader with master’s degrees in theology, liturgy and ministry. He studied Spanish and Hispanic Culture, and has served Detroit’s Hispanic community. And somewhere along the line, he mastered the ukulele.

So when he preached Tuesday evening to the new Confirmands, Bishop Hanchon pulled out his ukulele and broke into a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The message–that one should reach out and evangelize where one lives, taking the Gospel to the world–was an appropriate message for youth who, fortified with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, must now take their faith into the marketplace.

But what happened next is both an embarrassment and a scandal.

The parish organist, according to ChurchMilitant, was offended that the bishop would use such a plebeian instrument in his high-falutin’ church, and he  began to play the organ at full volume, drowning out Bishop Hanchon’s melody.

Michael Voris’ arch-conservative organization Church Militant reported (emphasis mine):

Auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of Detroit since 2011, Hanchon pulled out his ukulele during his homily and began to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” The bishop is well known for such antics, especially at youth Masses, where he has strummed his instrument before.

At Assumption Grotto, however, his musical efforts were drowned out by the parish organist, who started up with more appropriately themed music in the middle of Bp. Hanchon’s performance.

The organist, a long-time parishioner of Assumption Grotto, played the organ at full volume, and although Bp. Hanchon continued singing and playing, he eventually stopped, drily remarking, “Only at Grotto do you get that sort of accompaniment. Thank you very much.”

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I’ve gotta say:  This is boorish behavior, both on the part of the organist and of ChurchMilitant, whose published report is dripping with contempt. The bishop is a good man, and is deserving of respect–even if you’d have preferred a different approach. The hostile conservatives who saw fit to criticize may think they’re holier-than-thou, but in their pride and hubris, they forsook common manners like Internet trolls.

I once attended Mass at Assumption Grotto, my baptismal home, when a visiting priest was filling in for the Sunday liturgy. The priest, accustomed to the practice of shaking hands during the Kiss of Peace in most parishes in the archdiocese, said the familiar words: “Let’s offer one another a sign of Christ’s peace.” But from the pew behind me, a man complained loudly, “We don’t do that here!”

But that day, we did; and in following the lead of the celebrant, we sinned not.

The point that I want to make is this: It’s a Big Church. Catholics worship in many different ways in different places; and while I have some strong preferences, I am not the sole arbiter of what music is acceptable in church. The Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, recognizes the unique value of Gregorian chant in the Roman liturgy, while still allowing for other forms–explaining in paragraph 116:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations….

In paragraph 37, Sacrosanctum Concilium specifically addresses the matter of rigidity in worship:

Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples. Anything in these peoples’ way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit.

I’m wondering whether the self-appointed critics at Grotto aren’t what Fr. Thomas Rosica had in mind recently when he spoke of some Catholics on the Internet as promoting a “cesspool of hatred.”

Some years ago, my husband and I were privileged to attend Mass at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral, in the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The cathedral was simple as compared to a typical cathedral on the U.S. mainland. The accoutrements were modest, but I was struck by the vitality of faith. In that modest structure with its metal hurricane shutters and its confessional with simple folding chairs, the congregation, accompanied by steel drums, sang with gusto–figuratively lifting the roof off as they belted out their praise to the Lord. I’d never experienced such passionate worship, and I’m sure that our Heavenly Father was pleased.

In countries around the world, Catholics express their love of God in diverse and wonderful ways. In Africa, one might be pleased to encounter an open-air liturgy with drums, xylophone and mbira, or thumb- piano; in Scotland, the clàrsach and fiddle figure prominently; and in Korea, the kayagum may accompany the vocals. In a first grade classroom, a simple song with accompanying hand motions may help children to learn their prayers.

Likewise, the bishop’s ukulele lends an informality to his homily to the Confirmation class, and those students will probably remember his words. In any case, he is our spiritual leader and mentor; the decision whether to introduce a uke during his homily is his, not ours.